05 July 2023
I was extremely proud to be invited to the home of football, Wembley Stadium, to celebrate the Windrush 75th anniversary on 22nd June 2023. The Windrush 75 Network brought together everyone who is committed to making Windrush 75 a major national theme for 2023. It was a chance to mark this milestone in our history and spark a wider conversation about the past, present and future of our multi-ethnic society. I’d like to think that the invitation was for the recognition of my hard work championing grassroots sports, like my ‘Get Girls Onside’ football festivals. Or maybe I’m just on a mailing list somewhere. Either way, as someone who is extremely proud of their Jamaican roots and culture, there was no way I was going to miss out!
As an Arsenal fan, I have not had many reasons to visit Wembley in recent years, so this trip was long overdue. We were welcomed by a drinks reception that included a rum punch, with a decent little kick to it (even if it was missing some Uncle Wray). After a likkle rum, it was time for some fun with Mr Silky Skills, a freestyler footballer that had me doing all kinds of tricks, like my name was Carldinho – it was a good laugh.
On the way into the panel and dinner, we could view a Windrush exhibition curated by the Black Cultural Archives, before being treated to a performance by UK-based Caribbean band Kaiso, who kicked this next part of the evening off with a great vibe.
Inspiring guests and speeches
We were given a very inspiring opening speech by one of the main leaders in the game, FA Inclusion Advisory Board chair, Paul Elliott. He spoke about how the Windrush generation helped build the foundations for the next generations to strive “through their character, their persistence, their resilience, and their brilliance,”, as well as the frustrations still faced by many Black professionals today. His speech set the tone for an amazing panel discussion about growing up in the UK with Caribbean heritage, featuring legends of the game Hope Powell, Jermain Defoe, and Luther Blissett. It was brilliant to hear about The Jermain Defoe Foundation and the work they do to support young people in the Caribbean and UK. We were also blessed with a video from the England manager Gareth Southgate, who praised the Windrush generation and their contribution to British sport.
Black football players
One of the comments from the panel that really struck a chord with me was from Luther Blissett who, when talking about the racism he experienced as a 6-year-old coming from the Caribbean, he said “people feared you because you were different.” More than 70 years on, has much changed? A new recent report said, “efforts to get more Black players into senior positions in football have been too few, too little, too late.” Despite Black players accounting for 43% of all those playing in the Premier League, and 34% of all EFL players, the report stated less than 5% of professional football coaches in the top four divisions are Black and there is only one Black managers in the highest level of the game.
This is not surprising when this is also the reality in many workplaces across industries. In my sector, I am often the only Black man in the room at meetings and events; this is disheartening when we work with so many young people from Black and ethnic minorities backgrounds. In my industry, I still see my white counterparts with little or no managerial experience given access to leadership opportunities, where their black colleagues are not afforded the same chances to prove themselves. It was truly refreshing to attend an event like this, led by successful Black people of Caribbean decent; it helps give a positive message to all and hopefully contribute to breaking down barriers to equality. There was one simple comment that summed it up perfectly from Paul: “equality of opportunity.” This is what we work so hard for everyday!
The highlight of the event for me was having the amazing Kerry Davis sat on our table. Kerry was the first ever Black player to play for The Lionesses and has been inducted in the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame. She shared with us the challenges she faced in the early days as a Black female player and the issues between the Women’s FA and Men’s FA, as when she played, they used to be a separate entity. She praised the work of Paul Elliott and his team and reiterated that they are the gamechangers, who are helping to make a massive difference.
Overall, it was a great, 10/10 event, and in true Caribbean tradition, we all had blast and were feeling the vibes. We were blessed with the magnificent vocals of former winner of BBC talent show The Voice, Jermain Jackman, who serenaded us with an amazing rendition of Redemption Song to close the event.
Thank you to all who were involved in this amazing event, and most importantly, thank you to the Windrush generation who built the foundations that has allowed me to be me in these difficult times.
This is the way.
Sports Development Officer at London Youth